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Teens who vow to abstain from sex still get STDs

March 15, 2004|Jason Straziuso | Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Teens who make a one-time pledge to remain virgins until marriage catch sexually transmitted diseases about as often as those who don't pledge abstinence, according to a study of the sex lives of 12,000 adolescents.

Those who make a public pledge to delay sex also wind up having fewer sex partners and get married earlier, the research shows. But the two groups' STD rates were statistically similar.

One of the problems, researchers found, is that virginity "pledgers" are less likely to use condoms.

"It's difficult to simultaneously prepare for sex and say you're not going to have sex," said Peter Bearman, chairman of Columbia University's sociology department, who coauthored the study with Hannah Bruckner of Yale University. "The message is really simple: 'Just say no' may work in the short term but doesn't work in the long term."

Data from the study, presented March 9 at the National STD Prevention Conference, were taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. That study was funded in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Critics of abstinence-only education saw the findings as evidence that adolescents benefit from sex education.

"It's a tragedy if we withhold from these kids information about how not to get STDs or not to get pregnant," said Dorothy Mann, executive director of the Family Planning Council, an organization dedicated to reproductive health services.

But Pat Fagan, who researches family and cultural issues at the Heritage Foundation, cautioned that one-time pledges were different from abstinence-only education, which he said takes years of support and education. He noted that the virginity pledges delayed sex.

"It shows the power of the pledges by themselves," he said. "It also shows that alone, a one-time pledge is not enough. Anyone connected with the abstinence movement would never say it's enough."

The study first questioned 12- to 18-year-olds and followed up with them six years later as adults.

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